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Detained Von Roll manager freed

Von Roll hopes the accusations against its employee will be cleared up quickly Keystone

René Lüthy, a top manager at the Swiss materials technology group, Von Roll, has been released from a German prison after one month in detention.

This content was published on August 9, 2002 - 16:05

Von Roll said Lüthy had been freed on Friday after it paid bail of €200,000 (SFr292,000). Earlier the company had said Lüthy was expected to be released on Monday.

The head of the company's Inova division was taken into custody on July 6 and extradited to Germany where a warrant was out for his arrest on charges of bribery.

The public prosecutor's office in Bonn said Lüthy was suspected of involvement in "a particularly serious bribery scandal".

"The Von Roll Group very much regrets the latest development in the investigation against one of its executives and hopes that these accusations will be quickly cleared up by the German authorities," the company said in a statement last month. "The Von Roll Group is not involved in the proceedings."

Lüthy is accused of acting as an intermediary for money transfers between the engineering group, ABB, and Reiner Schreiber, an executive at Bonn's public utilities office.

ABB involvement

The transactions, which the authorities suspect may have been used as bribes, are reported to have taken place between 1996 and 1998. Investigators believe ABB used the money to buy information about an SFr68 million ($46 million) contract to construct a gas-fired power station in the former German capital.

Investigators are trying to determine whether ABB - which was later awarded the contract - gained a competitive advantage over its rivals by using the money to ascertain confidential information about the other companies bidding for the contract. They accuse ABB, Lüthy and Schreiber of unfair competition.

Swiss newspaper reports suggest ABB was able to avoid detection by passing money through a "relay station" in Switzerland, controlled by Lüthy.

A spokesman for ABB Germany told swissinfo its managers implicated in the deal had now left the company and it considered the matter closed. "There has been no employee of ABB Germany arrested in connection with the Lüthy case," Erwin Teichmann said.

House search

Following a request for judicial assistance, Swiss authorities searched Lüthy's home in Suhr on March 27, as well as Von Roll's headquarters in Zurich and offices in Solothurn. They confiscated a number of documents including some contracts which named the 59-year-old general director as an adviser.

German investigators are also believed to be examining whether Lüthy could have personally bribed Schreiber on a separate occasion in the early 1990s, when Von Roll Inova - which specialises in plant construction and waste management - won a lucrative contract to build a waste disposal facility in the German city.

Prosecutors are also attempting to shed light on a Zurich bank account, held in Schreiber's name and containing €1.5 million (SFr 2.17 million).

An initial appeal made by Lüthy against his detention was rejected, but another has since been lodged with the high court in Cologne.

Lüthy has been employed at Von Roll for more than 20 years and in April asked to be freed from his managerial commitments so he could concentrate on his defence.

swissinfo with agencies

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